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Topic: Parallel Fifths

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  1. #1

    Parallel Fifths

    I have a few questions about parallel fifths. I consider myself to be somewhat musically retarded, but I'm hoping to fix that issue.

    composers for the past few hundred years have forbidden the act of using parallel fifths when composing. I've gone about as far as reading the wikipedia article on this, but I have a few questions.

    My ear must still be very untrained, because parallel fifths don't really pop out to me as sounding bad. I don't think I even notice them at all. To someone with a trained ear, how does it sound? Awkward? Amatuerish? Nails on a chalkboard?

    Also, I've done sound engineering for a lot of choirs in the past, and it seems like every time there is a song that the conuctor really liked, he'd always say "this is such a great song. It has parallel fifths all over the place, but it's such a good arrangement that it works." I feel like I hear this more often than not.

    So, is the parallel fifths thing some sort of musical gospel that can only be broken by truly inspired composers? Or is it just some rule that some dude made up a few hundred years ago and everyone decided to jump on board? Or is it one of those musical snobbery things that people refer to in order to sound like they know how to compose?

    Is this a rule for just a certain style of music, or is it accross the board?

    Also, does anyone have any examples of professional music that has parallel fifths that can point out a time stamp and explain why it was good or bad in that situation?

    Sorry, that's a lot of questions for one post.
    Boz Millar

  2. #2

    Re: Parallel Fifths

    Quote Originally Posted by bozmillar View Post
    My ear must still be very untrained, because parallel fifths don't really pop out to me as sounding bad. I don't think I even notice them at all. To someone with a trained ear, how does it sound? Awkward? Amatuerish? Nails on a chalkboard?
    I bet you'll find they do pop out in the contexts where they're inappropriate. The whole reason that they are avoided in some music is that they sound pretty empty, and it's often very obvious.


    Also, I've done sound engineering for a lot of choirs in the past, and it seems like every time there is a song that the conuctor really liked, he'd always say "this is such a great song. It has parallel fifths all over the place, but it's such a good arrangement that it works." I feel like I hear this more often than not.
    That's the kind of thing that people say when they have a little training, of a particularly dogmatic type, and don't use their brains or their ears.

    So, is the parallel fifths thing some sort of musical gospel that can only be broken by truly inspired composers? Or is it just some rule that some dude made up a few hundred years ago and everyone decided to jump on board? Or is it one of those musical snobbery things that people refer to in order to sound like they know how to compose?
    There are no rules in music. What happens is that inspired composers write what seems right to their ear; then theorists come along and try to codify why their music works, and compile guidelines for writing pastiche. Then, sadly, rather less gifted teachers take these guidelines to be rules, without even wondering where they came from, and pass them on to their students in a very dogmatic way, who then go on to write well-crafted, but unimaginative music. The particular guidelines that came from codifying Bach's music (no parallel 5ths or octaves, no augmented intervals, no exposed octaves, etc) seem to have persisted for a long long time. If you study Bach's music for any length of time you'll find that even he didn't always follow these 'rules.' Mozart certainly took no notice of them (he has a particular fondness for doubling the major third in a chord at several octaves).

    Bottom line is to trust your ear. There are times when parallel 5ths will sound inappropriate (for instance in a chorale texture) and times when motion in parrallel 5ths is almost the raison detre of a piece.
    David

  3. #3

    Re: Parallel Fifths

    Quote Originally Posted by bozmillar View Post
    I have a few questions about parallel fifths. I consider myself to be somewhat musically retarded, but I'm hoping to fix that issue.

    composers for the past few hundred years have forbidden the act of using parallel fifths when composing. I've gone about as far as reading the wikipedia article on this, but I have a few questions.

    My ear must still be very untrained, because parallel fifths don't really pop out to me as sounding bad. I don't think I even notice them at all. To someone with a trained ear, how does it sound? Awkward? Amatuerish? Nails on a chalkboard?

    Also, I've done sound engineering for a lot of choirs in the past, and it seems like every time there is a song that the conuctor really liked, he'd always say "this is such a great song. It has parallel fifths all over the place, but it's such a good arrangement that it works." I feel like I hear this more often than not.

    So, is the parallel fifths thing some sort of musical gospel that can only be broken by truly inspired composers? Or is it just some rule that some dude made up a few hundred years ago and everyone decided to jump on board? Or is it one of those musical snobbery things that people refer to in order to sound like they know how to compose?

    Is this a rule for just a certain style of music, or is it accross the board?

    Also, does anyone have any examples of professional music that has parallel fifths that can point out a time stamp and explain why it was good or bad in that situation?

    Sorry, that's a lot of questions for one post.
    The "reason why" is a little mix of aesthetical and historical components, so it's not a blame you don't understand or don't agree.

    For instance they sound pretty good even in Classical or baroque music if used properly (well hidden, and in the right "tonal moment"), were used for long time in middle age, and later were used again with plenty of success in Blues, Jazz and Pop, after some more recent educated music (impressionism for instance) used it too.

    So it was just because:

    - for a while ('400 to 900, so nearly 500 years...wow) the parallel "perfect consonance" (octave and fifth) were considered similar, and empty.

    You should argue that a fifth is not really "empty" but for sure it sounds less brilliant than a tird, sixth etc.

    So a polifonic progression based on "empty" intervals was a wasting of resources (suggestion was using voice to stronger sound exchanging "role" to the part, so every parallel voicing, even if not forbidden was not recommended).

    - later the tonal sense (700 to 900) considere 2 fifth in sequence corrupting the tonal balance becuase they were used more on strong chords of a tonality (I, V etc.) and tonality was recommending the use of fifth for enforcing the tonal stability of the chord: two stable chord in sequence make confusion about who is leading...(that's questionable if you play IV-V-I sequence like in pop or blues...but classical music had different style and aesthetic).

    Is it still true? This is subjective....to our ear, it seems not so important, but I have to share my experience:

    - in the beginning it was totally unnatural to me, and I was wondering why as you do...

    - after years of composing in pure style harmony (with all the classical rules) I can feel now a kind of equilibrium, that would be brocken by parallel fifth, and I instinctively avoid it for the sound they have that doesn't match the style I'm imitating (classical or baroque or renaissance etc.)

    So my personal opinion is that the sound of it is recognizable, and if a style doesn't include it, if you introduce it, the style is lost.

    The opposit: if you write pop music without parallel fifth...it sounds weak and too educated...LOL

    that's style, that's art, that's music.

    my 2 cents...

  4. #4

  5. #5

    Re: Parallel Fifths

    hey, guys, thanks for the replies. Those were far more informative than I expected to get. I'll have to go back and look at the songs I've done so far and see how much I've done this. Maybe that will help me solve some of my "this doesn't sound quite right but I can't put my finger on why" moments.

    I find myself very under qualified as a musician to be able to say that the parallel fifths thing doesn't apply to me. I suppose that there are times where it's ok, but it sounds like it's the exception, not the norm, and I assume it's a good habit for me to get into to avoid it.

    Thanks for the answers. Pretty much answered everything I needed to know.
    Boz Millar

  6. #6

    Re: Parallel Fifths

    If it sounds good, do it. The rules of harmony were drilled into all of us by music theory teachers, who threatened us with eternal damnation in the abyss of dissonance if we even thought of using parallel fifths...or fourths or octaves or the already-demonic tritone.

    But then again, my music theory teacher was kinda nerdy anyway. One day, a kid brought in a socket wrench before class and detuned a few piano keys...
    "The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese." -Steven Wright, comedian

  7. #7

    Re: Parallel Fifths

    Another way of looking at this:

    Never do -- or avoid -- anything without a good
    reason. Whether it's parallel fifths or parallel
    thirds or sixths or tenths or even parallel flat
    ninths.

    Or parallel motion itself.

    Parellel motion emphasizes the importance of a
    given line (regardless of the parallel interval).
    And the parallel interval decides both the
    strength and the color of that emphasis. A very
    (harmonically) strong interval like a fifth lends
    greater prominence, while coloring the line with
    a hollow, tonally ambiguous nature. A major third
    or tenth imparts lesser emphasis, while sweetening
    the line with implications of the major scale.
    Dissonant intervals, a flat ninth, say, will
    actually weaken a line with harmonic ambiguity,
    but bring emphasis by the bitterness added to it.

    All of this, however, is stylistically contextual;
    in that the ear establishes harmonic relevance of
    given intervals within the framework of the idiom.
    In strict Classical style, parallel fifths will
    generally stand forth in a texture due to the
    great importance of the interval in that harmonic
    framework. In a tightly constrained pentatonic
    piece -- they'd often just sound... odd, misplaced.
    But in many modern styles with richer methodologies
    of achieving tonal relationships, they'd likely go
    completely unnoticed.

    Best,



    David
    -----
    David Sosnowski
    www.DavidSosnowski.com

  8. #8
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    Re: Parallel Fifths

    Parallel 5ths sound great on electric guitar with heavy distortion. Quite the heavy metal sound!

    Jim

  9. #9
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    Re: Parallel Fifths

    There are a lot of writing rules which bypass bad experience & lead to good sounds without too many corrections.
    THE RUB....it takes a long time to see why a rule applies and/or to remember the rule that applies.
    Parallel fifths & octaves. inner voice versus outer voice, voice leading of 3rds(up) & 7ths(down) and the BIGGIE to understand for me-the TRITONE!!
    I've had this pointed out-unclearly-for years. I thouht a tritone wad an alinement of 3 notes..duh!!
    It is an interval of 2 whole steps( an augmented 4th.) This is where the 3rd goes up & 7th goes down to resolve the tritone.
    Piano players have the easiest job of listening because they have always played combined notes. Wind players hear 1 note at a time.
    Gary

  10. #10

    Re: Parallel Fifths

    Quote Originally Posted by garymosse View Post
    Piano players have the easiest job of listening because they have always played combined notes. Wind players hear 1 note at a time.
    I think pop guitarists have an even easier job because they immediately start labelling chords as complete entities the day they start learning - so they get used to what it sounds like to go from C to G, or E to A. As a pianist I simply learned to read the notes; and recognising chords, inversions, etc was something that I was taught years later. As a result I have several students who are infinitely more sure-footed than I am when playing a chord progression by ear.

    On the other hand, move away from straight forward triads and the guitarists are completely lost.
    David

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